Report issued on graduate student families at Stanford

A task force focused on the needs of graduate student parents released a report outlining recommendations in the areas of child care, health care, housing and financial support.    

The Stanford Families Working Advisory Group today released a report offering recommendations to address many of the challenges experienced by graduate student parents who juggle demanding academic, research and family responsibilities.

Patricia J. Gumport, vice provost for graduate education, commissioned the advisory group to assess existing support for graduate student parents and to develop recommendations for resources and initiatives that would meet the compelling needs and enhance the lives of graduate student families. Gumport credits effective advocacy by leaders of the Student Parent Alliance and Mothers in Academia who together brought these issues to the attention of university leadership.

Graduate student, spouse and child

The experiences of graduate students and their families at Stanford are the focus of new reports and will be discussed at an open community meeting on April 10 at 5:30 p.m. at the Graduate Community Center. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

“As we review this report and recommendations, we seek to gain a broad and deep understanding of the challenges experienced by our students who are raising families. This report is timely, as the university is engaged in planning to ensure that all of our graduate students are supported in their academic pursuits,” Gumport said. She noted that a similar study can be conducted on the needs of postdoctoral scholars with children.

“We appreciate the thoughtful deliberations of the advisory committee members, especially how they sought extensive input from graduate students in focus groups and individual testimonials,” said Gumport.

The task force was co-chaired by Ken Hsu, assistant vice provost and director of the Graduate Life Office, and Phyllis Stewart Pires, senior director of WorkLife strategy.

In a separate but related effort, the Graduate Student Council today released findings from a survey assessing the well-being of graduate students that was conducted last summer. The survey included questions about housing, health care and child care.

The Graduate Student Council (GSC) and the Office for the Vice Provost for Graduate Education will host an open community meeting on April 10 at 5:30 p.m. at the Graduate Community Center. Provost Persis Drell and other university leaders will attend the meeting in order to hear students’ perspectives on the GSC survey findings and the report from the Student Families Working Advisory Group. The discussion will inform decisions regarding the recommendations of the advisory group.

“We all look forward to hearing students’ perspectives, especially their views on how to prioritize recommendations for resources and initiatives, which will be considered within the context of the university’s long-range planning,” Gumport said.

Recommendations from the report

During the committee’s investigations some common themes surfaced, which included a desire for an enhanced culture of support, concerns about affordability, a lack of community and a lack of coordinated communication and data. These themes helped to inform and prioritize the committee’s recommendations, according to the co-chairs.

The recommendations are as follows:

  • Establish a need-based student family grant of up to $10,000 per family per year.
  • Allocate funding to partially subsidize the cost of university-sponsored health insurance for dependents.
  • Create a single point of contact, a family resource advocate, for graduate student parents/expectant parents to serve as the primary source for information and resource referrals.
  • Establish a student Family Community Center.
  • Expand options for flexible child care that meet the unique scheduling and budgetary needs of the graduate student population as part of a larger strategic plan for child care expansion.
  • Offer back-up child care of up to five days per calendar year for student families.
  • Extend funding for Stanford’s student childbirth accommodation for the birth parent to one academic quarter (three months) and consider an accommodation for the non-birth parent.
  • Increase infrastructure and support services for all nursing parents, including allocation of dedicated lactation space within campus buildings.
  • Establish a formal, centralized system for collection, storage and sharing of data about graduate student families.

The full report can be accessed by the campus community here.


Beginning its work in spring 2017, the advisory group explored a wide breadth of topics that shape the experiences of student parents, eventually narrowing the focus to what emerged as key concerns: housing, child care, financial assistance, academic accommodations and health care.

The task force’s methodology included an assessment of current needs and resources, peer benchmarking and in-depth discussion and analysis of information collected from subject matter experts and stakeholders across the university.

The task force engaged extensively with Community Associates for student families and representatives from Student Parent Alliance and Mothers in Academia to solicit feedback and gain a better understanding of the scope of issues and challenges student parents encounter.

“The students initiated this conversation, and their passion, ideas and experiences informed and inspired our work all along the way,” Hsu said.

One of the challenges faced by the task force was a lack of data on graduate student families, including knowing the exact number at Stanford. As of fall 2017, there were 279 graduate student parents residing in on-campus housing specifically structured for student families with children. However, no mechanism exists to determine how many student parents reside outside of this system.

Nevertheless, the co-chairs were confident that the committee’s holistic approach, highly collaborative process and extensive outreach produced a “very solid report” with supportive data that captures the current landscape and anticipates the future needs of graduate student parents.

Co-chair Stewart Pires said, “I’m very proud of the work we did. The committee members entered into the project with incredible curiosity, openness to learning about the student family experience, a collaborative spirit with respect to identifying recommendations and an appreciation for the subject matter expertise we leveraged throughout the process.

“I am confident that this report represents a merging of the student family voice and the subject matter expertise of the various groups that work to support students across the university. We hope that the report is a springboard for further discussions and joint learnings as we work toward enhancing the experience for student families.”